Since the Supreme Court affirmed that the execrable calumny produced by Fred Phelps’ clan (Westboro Baptist Church) is protected speech, Congress is considering passing laws that would expand the exclusion zones of time and space around military funerals. Unfortunately, I think this is a bad move on many levels, most of all because Congress should either protect all funerals or acknowledge that enduring some truly vile speech is the price we pay for freedom of speech.
My partner got into a passionate discussion with someone the other day because the other guy was insisting that members of the military are extra-special, better people, overall, than non-military. My spouse, who has made his career in the military, disagreed. He doesn’t think he’s anything special, and certainly not a better person than non-military people. He also knows first-hand that people in the military are a lot like any other kinds of people: they screw up and do bad things. Honor is something they strive for, not something that automatically accrues to them when they join.
I said afterwards that the other guy was trying to express a deeply-felt sentiment (mostly gratitude) but that he kept translating the depth of his feeling into hyperbole, but not realizing the difference between his hyperbole (with respect to the facts) and his feelings. Regardless, it deeply disturbed my partner because he does not want to see the country put the military on a pedestal to the point where that attitude could destabilize our democracy.
This potential law is an example of that kind of attitude. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad most citizens have learned to separate their feelings about the members of the military from their feelings about the national policy those members are enacting. But my partner is right that perpetuating the idea that the military is sacrosanct is dangerous.
If I saw this sort of legislation being sought to protect the funerals of high-profile QUILTBAG people* (which are the Phelpses’ other favorite target), I would still be concerned about it as a potentially unconstitutional limitation on free speech. But as it is, this proposed legislation is an insult to all the other grieving families that the Phelpses target. If grieving families are worth protecting, and the speech can be limited in this way, then the law should protect us all. That’s what the military lives and dies for.
*QUILTBAG is an acronym that arose on The Slacktiverse’s comment threads. It’s intended to capture the alphabet soup of the ever expanding GLBT… acronym. It means Queer/Questioning, Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Transsexual/Transgender, Bisexual, Asexual, and Gay.